"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 06/15/12

Friday, June 15, 2012

Issues in Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s plagiarism allegation

By Farooq A. Kperogi

This is probably an inopportune moment to resurrect the uncomfortable and troubling plagiarizing charges against Central Bank of Nigeria governor Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. He must still be luxuriating in the afterglow of his new traditional title from the Emir of Kano. But the discomfort of our oppressors should not deter us from discussing their transgressions.

A certain Mr. Victor E. Dike, a US-based high school teacher who is also an adjunct (i.e., part-time) lecturer at a little-known, non-traditional university called the National University in Sacramento, California, sued Sanusi some weeks back over claims that the CBN governor plagiarized his works in two public speeches.

According to court documents, in a November 26, 2010 convocation speech at the Igbinedion University in Edo State titled “Growth Prospects for the Nigerian Economy,” Sanusi lifted several passages word for word from Dike’s published articles in violation of the established protocols of citation.

Again, Dike alleged, Sanusi’s December 10 convocation lecture at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University titled “Global Financial Meltdown and Reforms in the Nigerian Banking Sector” stole several paragraphs from another published paper of Dike’s. Sanusi has not denied the accuracy of these charges.

Dike said he called Sanusi’s attention to this serial rape of his intellectual property but that Sanusi responded by saying he had cited a “Victor E.D” in the said public lectures. Sanusi never apologized for his intellectual and literary theft.

Plagiarism is no light matter. Many important personalities in the world have been brought down by it. US Vice President Joe Biden’s run for the presidency of the United States came to a screeching halt in 1988 when he was found guilty of plagiarizing British politician Neil Kinnock during a stump speech. Just last April, Hungarian president Pal Schmitt resigned as president of his country over plagiarism allegations.

This may be purely coincidental, but I am particularly troubled that Sanusi’s plagiarized speeches were delivered to university audiences where intellectual honesty is central to the integrity of knowledge production, where students and lecturers can lose their careers if they are found guilty of plagiarism. This is what makes it even more scandalous for me.

To be sure, anybody who is familiar with Sanusi’s writings would know that he wasn’t personally responsible for the plagiarism. I have followed his public writings since 1998. Sanusi is easily one of the finest and most delicate users of the English language that I know. His prose is irresistibly delightful, riveting, and seductive. A reviewer of Ben Okri’s Famished Road wrote that “Okri is incapable of writing a boring sentence.” I will paraphrase the reviewer and say Sanusi is incapable of writing bland, uninspired prose.

 The passages Dike accused Sanusi of having plagiarized are so banal, so pedestrian, so ordinary that I am shocked that Sanusi, with all his sensitivity to refined prose, would allow such language in his speech. Here is a sample of the passages Sanusi plagiarized: “the challenges facing the economy is in-effective institutions and dilapidated  infrastructure (bad roads, erratic power supply, limited access to potable water and basic healthcare, and in-effective regulatory agencies, etc). The plethora of reforms and policies are in-effective due to institutional failure (Hoff, 2003)".

The prose is not only ungainly and unglamorous; it is also in need of some rhetorical and compositional maturity. If Sanusi wanted to plagiarize—and I doubt he would ever personally plagiarize given his pride and intellectual depth—Dike’s colorless prose would be an unlikely candidate. It is obvious that the speech was written for Sanusi by some intellectually slothful CBN employee.

So I wasn’t surprised by the CBN’s initial response to the allegations. CBN’s director of corporate communications, Ugochukwu A. Okoroafor, said “ Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi did not write the said paper,” pointing out that  “Governors of the Central Bank of Nigeria, just like Chief Executive Officers of similar institutions in Nigeria and abroad, deliver papers, not in their personal capacities, but on behalf of the institutions for which they are chief spokespersons. In the case of the CBN, such papers, even though presented by the Governor, represent our collective views and are prepared by professional researchers in the relevant departments of the Bank.”

I don’t for a moment doubt the factual accuracy of this defense, but it’s a poor, weak defense nonetheless. First, the statement does not acknowledge that Sanusi’s speeches indeed barefacedly plagiarized someone’s published works, but goes ahead nevertheless to admit that the speeches weren’t written by Sanusi. That defense is weak because if the speeches were brilliant and quotable, Sanusi would have taken the credit. We would never have been told that he didn't write them. And that’s how it should be.

When people quote memorable speeches from presidents, CEOs, politicians, etc. they give the credit not to speech writers (who in any case are often invisible) but to the people who deliver the speeches. The late US President John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech in which he invited the American people to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” was written by his speech writer Ted Sorensen. But no one, except insiders, gave the credit to Sorensen.

Spiro Agnew, America’s vice president from 1969 to 1973, was noted for his beautifully alliterative turns of phrase. For instance, he famously condemned his political enemies as “nattering nabobs of negativity,” as “pusillanimous pussyfooters,” and as “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.” But he never personally wrote any of these remarkable phrases. They were written for him by William Safire, Agnew’s speech writer who later wrote a famous grammar column in the New York Times called “On Language” until his death in 2009.

One of Obama’s most memorable speeches after he lost a presidential primary contest to Hillary Clinton was this: “For when we have faced down impossible odds, when we've been told we're not ready or that we shouldn't try or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can....” Obama got the credit for the speech, but it was singlehandedly written for him by his then 29-year-old (now 31-year-old) speech writer Jon Favreau.

When Bill Clinton was misled into calling our Philip Emeagwali the “Bill Gates of Africa” by his speech writers who fell for Emeagwali’s carefully executed fraud, he also took the blame for it. He didn’t go about blaming his speech writers.

So it is indefensible for the CBN to say that because Sanusi didn’t personally plagiarize Dike he isn’t culpable of any ethical or legal infraction. If he takes the glory of his speeches, he should be prepared to take the blame for them as well.

Another weakness of the CBN’s defense is the claim that they cited one “Victor E.D” in Sanusi’s speeches. First, the author’s last name is “Dike,” not Victor. A proper citation would be “Dike, V.E.” Improperly citing the author of an article or a book constitutes plagiarism. But what is worse is that Sanusi’s communication managers apparently think that it is acceptable to steal an author’s words and pass them off as yours so long as you acknowledge the author whose words you have stolen. That’s wrong. Using someone’s words directly without inserting quotation marks around those words is culpable intellectual and literary theft even if you acknowledge the name of the author whose words you’re using.

I am disappointed that given Sanusi’s familiarity with the culture of academic citation he would allow the kind of incompetent defense issued by his corporate communications director to be released to the public media.
I hope Sanusi pays a huge reputational and financial price for this infraction if only to serve as a warning to the hordes of intellectual thieves who prowl the Internet to steal people’s thoughts and words.


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